LPC Supervision

As a part of a standard audit by the licensing board, I had to provide a synopsis of the style of supervision I provide to clinicians who are seeking their license. I might as well post it here as well:

My primary identification regarding a treatment modality is gestalt. Gestalt can be viewed as a synergistic interplay between existential phenomenology, systemic, cognitive behavioral, and humanistic modes of psychotherapy.

Respectively, I help the supervisee gain greater sensitivity to the clients’ response to the human condition and fears of death and loss, patterns and forces inherent in context and family of origin, the way thoughts/beliefs affect mood/behavior, and the natural aspirations towards an actualized self and self-preservation.

There is a strong emphasis on *self-of-therapist*. This is due to the belief that the self is the most effective instrument of therapy. I value authenticity and transparency and, even if the supervisee does not wish to prioritize these aspects in their work, I help them see how their “self” will come out in their “work” whether they’d like it to or not. Therefore I discourage compartmentalization of self-as-therapist against the rest of one’s life. I encourage an integration *self* and *therapist* so their work is a graceful extension of a clear world-view and a true desire to be of service (as opposed to a harmful counter-transference and/or a stagnating hypocrisy).

I do not encourage supervisees to identify with gestalt. Rather, I encourage supervisees to identify with (and intensely study) the theories that make the most sense to them and what will bring out the gifts, talents, and strengths of their personality. I do not discuss techniques. I encourage the deeper striving towards mastery of theory. Throughout the course of supervision, I employ the concepts (per Carl Whitaker) of the Battle for Structure and the Battle for Initiative. These concepts are applicable to any school of thought – any style of therapy – any interpersonal relation.

Battle for Structure: we look at how every behavior of the therapist is a creative act that builds the structure of the therapy relationship. I want therapists to build the structure deliberately. This, again, is universal across the different styles of therapy. Therapists choose the structure they’d like to create based on the theory from which they’re operating.

Battle for Initiative: we look at how the goal of the therapy is for the client to be successfully discharged and have no further need for the therapist. I want therapists to be deliberate about how they help the client tap into their own creativity. We want to leave clients excited about and invested in the creation of the remainder of their lives. We are careful not to create a dependence on the therapist. This, again, is universal across the different styles of therapy. Therapists will choose how they go about this depending on their school of thought.


In sum, I help therapists develop their ability to:

(1) Theory: Understand why things are happening the way they are.

(2) Battle For Structure: Be aware of and deliberate about the structure of the relationship they’re creating.

(3) Battle For Initiative: Be aware of and deliberate about bringing forth the client’s creativity.

Power, the Structure of Therapy, and Existential Responsibility

These thoughts and connections were fueled from something I came across in which a therapist was advocating for the use of workbooks and activities in order to, “make sure we get somewhere.”

I love both gestalt philosophy and gestalt therapy so I am going to take that phrase and hold it under some gestalt lenses.

The “somewhere” gestalt wants “to get” is: Here. Now.


*The power is in the present.*

Gestalt unapologetically wants to make its clients more powerful. In the past, I imagined one day opening a practice called “Power and Peace.” I appreciate how those words complement each other and seem to express the polarity of the *centrality* of peacefulness and a *reach* of power.  (Saying the “power” alone makes it sound like we want a bunch of narcissists or Napoleons running around?)  Psychological growth really seems like it’s made up of centralizing and expanding.

The reason the power is in the present is because it’s the only time we can DO anything. The past and future are extremely important too, but with a key difference. We can’t DO anything in the past. We can’t DO anything in the future.  Our power is within what we can do – what we can create.  The only time we can do anything is now. Here. Where you are. You can imagine doing something 5 minutes from now, but that’s you, now, imagining. If you’re under water, you can imagine breathing all you want but it won’t do you any good.   You need actual movements towards actual air.  I was really struck the first time I read PHG say, “the wholly inadequate motions of thinking.”  I was probably offended.  I treasure(d) my thinking.

Therefore, one of the results of gestalt therapy is the consistent movement closer and closer to the now. Closer and closer to one’s power. And also closer and closer to one’s peace. It reminds me of the phrase, “the only zen you find at the top of a mountain is the zen you bring.” The task is to learn how to appreciate the now. The better we do at that task, the less it matters what’s actually happening in the now.  This touches some ontological stuff – the appreciation or even amazement that this (life) is even happening.  This is a child-like quality that unfortunately a lot of us lose.  Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is a great place to jump-start this concept.

So you see how the words look through that lens? Using a workbook “to make sure we get somewhere”… do we want to get better at living in workbooks? Not from a gestalt perspective. We want to get better at living in the now.  The now is where you can do things.  The now is where you can have fun.  The now is where you can find meaning.  The now is where you actually are.

The other key piece that ties in is the structure of therapy. From an existential perspective, the therapeutic growth is the increase of “responsibility” of authorship of one’s life: Yes, this is my situation. Yes, I have created it. Yes, I am responsible for what happens next.  Carl Whitaker said, “you’re responsible for what happens, not for what you say you wanted to happen.”

The benefit of leaving the canvas of the therapeutic structure blank for a client to use (as opposed to a workbook) is it’s the microcosm and bridge for the same concept in the general, larger (scarier, harsher) sense. By having a client *feel* the structure-less-ness, it provides a *safe* opportunity to examine the relation between creative-self and empty-canvas. It’s such a heavy relation. It’s such a scary idea that we’re creating our one chance at existence. A “structureless” therapy (a blank canvas) lets the client get the feel of the paintbrush, to splash around with paints, to begin to get mastery over certain types of strokes and previously unknown colors, to examine the painting and make critical decisions about its aesthetic satisfaction – to look at how and when the client turns away from the canvas or drops the paintbrush – and then supports the client in the often painful task (there’s always a good reason we drop the paintbrush) of picking it back up. The existential responsibility is the sense of holding the paintbrush and being open to the possibility you created the painting.

On the flip side, let’s go a layer deeper into this and weave.  It’s a paradox – or at least a misnomer – to say the therapy is structureless.  The interplay of canvas and paintbrush is the structure.  It’s a very specific structure.  And the therapist is very deliberate and heavy-handed in providing the canvas and examining the relation of creative-self and empty-canvas.  That’s the therapist’s one and only agenda.  Interestingly, what ends up on the canvas is the agenda of the client.   So, said in a different way, the therapist’s agenda is in support of (or at least in relation to) the client’s agenda.  It’s this interweaving of agendas Whitaker refers to when he talks about purposely “winning” the Battle for Structure and purposely “losing” the Battle for Initiative.  To put the therapist’s energies into words, it’s something like: “hey, we’re going to be examining your creative power and we’re not going to be doing anything other than that” (winning the Battle for Structure) while also: “in the end, I deeply believe you know what’s best for you.  I’d like you to be consistently fine-tuning your ability to check inwards to find your truths, so I’m not going to tell you what to do with your paintbrush.  Your paintbrush is yours and yours only.  And I’m really happy to support you while we play around with the difficult brushstrokes you’ve been hoping to improve” (losing the Battle for Initiative).

Here are two separate PHG quotes which will take us full circle back to power.  The first one contrasts on the continuum of “existential responsibility” and the second one is very clear about how we want our clients to be powerful.  (“Weapons” is a pretty powerful word, yes?)

“An unknown number, perhaps a majority, believe they would have no troubles if the world would just treat them right. A smaller contingent does have, at least at times, a vague recognition that they themselves are responsible for the ills that beset them, at any rate in part, but they lack techniques for coping with them.” Techniques for coping?  How about psychological weapons:  “We wish to strengthen and supply [the client] with more effective weapons.”

How strong do you feel?  Do you feel like you have the weapons necessary to handle your current obstacles?  What brushstrokes are you being challenged to make?  What parts of your situations are you deeming outside of your control?

Not of Correction, but of Growth

In a recent Structured Group, we studied a section with two beautiful parts that fuel my fire. That was weeks ago but they’re still on my mind and I’d like to share them with the blog-universe.

In my first post I mentioned how I’m not sure what shape this blog will take. Not surprisingly, there’s a vein of comparing / contrasting gestalt with other methodologies. I’m passionate about theory and that’s why I like teaching and supervising in addition to doing gestalt therapy. Making sense of the world (psychological / philosophical theory) is one of the relationships that hold me up.

(I also mentioned in my first post I’d be adding a disclaimer to every post and saying what music I’m listening to. False. Writing on the fly. No music. And I got over my initial blogging resistance / fear of being sued. Ha.)

So here are the two quotes and then I’ll explain why I love them.

“This is to psychologize without pre-judgment of normal or abnormal, and from this point of view psychotherapy is a method not of correction but of growth.”


“The psychotherapy proposed in the previous chapters emphasizes: concentrating on the structure of the actual situation; preserving the integrity of the actuality by finding the intrinsic relation of socio-cultural, animal, and physical factors; experimenting; promoting the creative power of the patient… ”

Double mmm.

Sometimes people start counseling with the assumption they will be judged. Sometimes this has fear with it (“please don’t judge me”) and sometimes this is welcomed (“please tell me what I’m doing wrong”).

Judgment and correction go hand in hand. Gestalt therapy is not of correction, but of growth. There’s absolutely nothing *wrong* with the way a person is living. There is, however, a chance to optimize and to grow into new areas which will certainly *improve* the way a person is living… literally opening up new options… new skills… more payoffs… less costs.

There’s an Alice in Wonderland quote I keep in my office.  Alice comes to a crossroad and asks the cat, “which way should I go?” The cat says, “where are you trying to get to?” Alice says, “I don’t really know.” The cat says, “then it doesn’t matter which road you take.”

Gestalt therapy, similar to the cat, is interested in *your* desires/goals. If you’re not sure what your desires are, do you desire to know what your desires are?

Then by “preserving the integrity of the actuality by finding the intrinsic relation[s]…” we can land on a clearer image of what path may be the most valuable to you. It’s not correction. It’s examination. From examining, your perceptions become clearer / brighter / truer and then your “creative power” is “promoted.” Alice gets a better sense of where she’d like to get to and which path would give her the best odds. AND there’s additional self-support to be able to take the risk of choosing the path, even if she’s not certain it will pan out.

Gestalt develops your ability to self-support. Lara Perls said, “we support the client as much as necessary and as little as possible.”  The second part, “as little as possible,” is because we want to increase your ability to self-support.  We don’t support too much because then it would get in the way of developing your own abilities.  We’re looking for your growing edge (within the “intrinsic relations”) so that you can be with it and relate to it – thereby moving it and increasing/expanding your comfortable area of self-support.  The scary part about therapy is the ‘growing edge’ is where your anxiety lies.   But we also support you as much as much as necessary… while at the same time we’re trying to work ourselves out of a job. We’re very interested in your ability to feel grounded and supported within yourself. This often means reconfiguring your relationships. What is supporting you? Your relationship with your breathing? With posture? With the ground? With your ears? With Sam Adams? With a good book? With your spouse? With an imagined future? Are you aware of the relationship that’s holding you up? What’s the cost of that relationship?

It’s not correction. It’s growth. It’s examining the relationships, lighting things up. We want you to know what movements you’re making, what the costs are, and what the payoffs are.   In the words of Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, “At this point, the patient can take over on his own.”

Systems, Judgment, and Experimentation (Oceans and Inverted Twister)

I find the following analogy very helpful to explain some concepts. And I’d like to connect some analogous dots.

Systemic vision and judgment are mutually exclusive.  It is impossible to judge something (or someone) when you can see the way it fits into the larger picture, embedded within connections that make any other configuration impossible or, at best, improbable.  When student counselors are taught the Rogerian foundations (Counseling 101) of positive regard, nonjudgment, unconditional acceptance, etc.,  it’s often a stretch.  The counselor has to *try* to be nonjudgmental.  They have to disconnect from their judgment (vision) in order to *try* to connect with their client in a nonjudgmental way.  If the counselor continues to study systems, this [need to] disconnect begins to disintegrate.  Things just make more sense.  The counselor doesn’t have to *try* to be nonjudgmental because there’s nothing left to judge.  PHG talk about this in describing contact.  In contact, things just seem “inevitable” or “just right,” they say.  The more we are in true contact with our clients (and with life in general) judgment actually becomes impossible – or, rather, loses its function / becomes useless.

So here’s the analogy I want to use to describe systemic vision: if you look at the waves in the ocean, there is no way to locate a beginning point or an ending point, a cause or an effect, a do-er or a do-ee, an isolated part from the rest of the parts.  It is simply in flow.  It is completely connected.  All of the parts are moving in relation to all of the other parts.  One can’t ‘judge’ a singular wave and say ‘it shouldn’t have happened that way’.  When you see the whole: of course that wave is going to happen exactly the way it did.  It is simply just happening.  (The ocean also lends itself wonderfully for an analogy of ‘figure and ground’ – wave and nonwave – being made up of the same stuff (“self”) – and also in flow, inseparable, and inverse-able/relative. But that’s another post.)

Now let’s shuttle back to the application of therapy…  and let’s continue with analogies.

Are you familiar with the game of Twister?  Please imagine ‘inverted twister’.  Imagine a playground: monkey bars and other hanging apparatuses.  I’m picturing something like a rock-climbing-wall in a gym, only it’s parallel to the ground so you’re actually hanging parallel, belly up, with your feet, knees, elbows and hands holding and weaving onto certain pieces according to the colors of the inverted twister.  Very uncomfortable.  It’s this discomfort that brings a person to therapy – and the “stuck-ness!”  Inverted twister may have been going ok for a while (and the person is, without a doubt, performing with their best effort) but then a certain combination of color patterns presents itself, knees wrapped over this, ankle tucked under that, arm across one bar to grab onto the other bar, etc.  The configuration started to make any subsequent movement impossible / improbable.  The person is stuck and uncomfortable to say the least.  If we wanted to say more, we could certainly add ‘scared’ and ‘losing hope,’ I’m sure.  Again, this is when a person might choose to enter therapy to get some outside assistance.

I would hope no one would judge this person.  They have been giving their best efforts, responding to the color configurations presented (aka life), and moving along until they got stuck.  To return to the ocean analogy, we see how all of the movements up until now make sense.  We can’t look at any one piece of the picture and say ‘it shouldn’t have happened that way.’  The same with the wave: ‘yeah, of course it happened exactly the way it did.’  Without systemic vision in place, a counselor might think, ‘look at his arm! It’s wrapped under his knee, turned backwards and then only holding on with two fingers! Of course that’s not going to work,’ (with judgment) not seeing the larger picture of the interconnectedness.  Without systemic vision, a person/counselor also can’t see how the arm going under the knee actually supports the leg to keep the ankle wrapped around a different bar.  The counselor says, “just take that arm out and grab onto this bar over here!  You’ll be much more comfortable!”  The client tries and either falls off or simply can’t.  Counselor gets frustrated. Client gets frustrated/confused/shamed.  Client drops out of therapy. Counselor rationalizes, “that person just wasn’t ready for therapy.”

This is largely where the ‘gestalt experiment’ comes into play.  In gestalt therapy, we value (we understand the power of) the interconnectedness and we are interested in the ‘whole’ and in the ‘configuration’.  We want to see how parts relate to other parts to determine the whole of the functioning.  This is the gestalt approach to the unfortunate stuck individual on the inverted twister:

“Hmm.  Yes, you are stuck indeed.” “I am going to stand right here with my arm right here so that you can’t fall and we can take a look at things together.” (There is a fundamental supportiveness within gestalt therapy.) “Now you feel more secure, right?  Good.  Now, what happens if you try to wiggle this finger, does it move?” “Ok. I also see your shoulder is able to rotate a little bit, what’s it like for you to do that?” “Great.  Where do you feel the most range now? That knee? Ok, great, go for it.. what happens when you shift it?” “Are you happy with how your wrist is positioned? Or is it worth playing with that as well?”

There is an understanding that the configuration is paramount and that the work is investigative and experimental, both in the service of learning and developing, opening new options, harnessing creativity.  We value full range of motion and aware choice.  We don’t like stuck.  We want twister to be fun and meaningful.

Lastly, this term will probably show up a lot in this blog but I’ll make the first mention now: “response-ability.”  Gestalt is an existential therapy and in existential philosophy there’s the idea of “responsibility,” the acknowledgment of the authorship/ownership of one’s existence.  Gestaltists (Fritz first, I believe) have played with that term and broke it up into “response-ability.”  This works very well with the inverted twister analogy (life).  We can’t always choose the colors that are presented.  We choose our responses.  Earlier when I said, ‘we value full range of motion and aware choice,’ another way of saying that is, ‘we want people to have full abilities.’  The greater our abilities, the more apt we are at responding to the color configurations that life presents.  Sometimes the color configurations are ugly.  But we can be response-able.

Contact Boundary and Serenity Prayer

Grab a piece of paper.  Write “Not Me” on it.

The world existed before you did.

[ The serenity to accept the things I cannot change ]

Now write “Me” on the paper.

You have arrived with the world.

[ The courage to change the things I can ]

Now draw a circle around “Me” in order to distinguish between “Me” and “Not Me.”

[ And the wisdom to know the difference ]

This “wisdom to know the difference” is, in gestalt terms, the ‘contact boundary.’  It is the line that distinguishes You from The World. If you wouldn’t have drawn the circle, how would you know where one ends and one begins? The clarity, function, and effectiveness of that ‘line’ is the difference between feeling powerful and feeling helpless, between feeling peaceful and feeling deep chaos.  What can you control? What is yours?  What belongs to other people?  What are the laws of the universe? What can you control?

[By reading this post you are acknowledging you’ve read and agree to the first post disclaimer]

Jesus, Perls, Einstein – Mission Statement – First Post, Disclaimer

I’m wondering if there is value in starting a blog.

If so, I don’t know for whom the value would be – current clients, potential clients, casual readers, other gestalt therapists, myself, other therapists who want to learn more about gestalt principles, etc.  Truthfully, I am not sure if I have a preference of a target audience.  One of the tenets of gestalt therapy is ‘creative pre-commitment,’ the idea of moving one’s energy into a space, having beneficent intentions, without an attachment to the form of the outcome. (This part of gestalt is consistent with parts of yoga.)  I am beginning this blog with this creative pre-commitment.  We will see what shape it takes.

As a personal disclaimer and as an expression of my resistances to starting this blog, I don’t consider myself a strong writer.  I consider myself a strong therapist, thinker, teacher, believer, creative to a fault, but not a strong writer.  I’m often disappointed in the flow of my written words once I look back at them.

There’s also a professional/legal disclaimer at the bottom of this post, to which I plan to point for every subsequent post.  There are lawyers in the world.

I also plan to listen to music whenever I want to get the writing juices flowing.  I’m going to list this music in a jocular way as “This Piece Pairs Best With: [song].”  (Performance Enhancers were used in the creation of that last sentence: jocular / thesaurus).  This piece, for example, pairs best with: Eluvium – New Animals From the Air.

A mission statement seems like a fitting first post.

Gestalt Development Center, and all of my movements as a human being, rest on three pillars from three heavy-hitters.

John wrote how Jesus redundantly asked Peter, “do you love me?”  Then, when Peter kept affirming he did, Jesus kept repeating the instruction, “then feed my sheep.”   It is a brief, circular, redundant passage which drives the point home.  Secondly, Fritz Perls said, “all we’re ever doing is backfeeding,” when he was summing up gestalt therapy in a very tiny nutshell.  I love the word-connection of ‘feeding’ and the overlap of a deep, religious mission with the technical application of a complex therapy theory.  I am much more familiar with the works of Jesus and Perls than I am of Einstein and, honestly, I don’t even know if this is an accurate Einstein quote (didn’t Abraham Lincoln do a facebook status about being frustrated with all the misquotes?)  The quote that I’ve seen attributed to Einstein is, “in the end, I hope you can say you’ve given more to the world than what you’ve taken from it.”  Those are the three interlocking pillars.

There is a ‘giving’ and ‘feeding’ component to my work and this makes me feel very good about the beautiful moments I have with my clients.  I truly believe when gestalt therapy is done well, both the client and the therapist receive very rich rewards, whether these rewards are framed for the afterlife or whether they are emphasized in the immediate, psychological growth of the people involved.  There is absolutely no need for a gestalt therapist to have a religious connection to doing the work (Perls was an avid atheist and would describe the neurosis of a person who ‘always believed God was looking at them’) but, for me, it does.  There is also no need for a client to have a religious goal in therapy but, for some clients, it does.

As far as future posts, two offshoots of these thoughts can be (1) the overlaps and contrasts of gestalt therapy and Rogerian therapy.  Both have the common value of ‘backfeeding’ but, when other ingredients  like energy flow, horizontalization and systems theory are added, gestalt can sometimes have a different emphasis of what is backfed.  (2) Why both participants (therapists and client) benefit from gestalt therapy – an examination of growth, authenticity and the contact boundary.  There’s a good chance those will be future posts for the next time I sit down and put some music on.

Thanks for reading.  Take care and best wishes.

– Kip

[ [ Professional/legal/semi-jocular-but-also-serious disclaimer:  Consult with a qualified professional before you actually make any choices or take any action in your life.  These posts are not medical advice and should not be used as such. These posts are not a crisis hotline. If you are in crisis, please do not comment for assistance – please call 911 or your local county crisis number.  If you are a client of the Gestalt Development Center, your work is special to us and we hold your privacy dearly. You are more than welcome to interact with these posts online but please understand this publicly announces your affiliation with us and we are, as such, not liable for breaching your confidentiality. Confidentiality is our professional duty to keep, not yours. You can do as you wish.  ] ]